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Taliban celebrate 'complete independence' as last U.S. troops leave Afghanistan

AMERICA
By Reuters | August 31st 2021

Major General Chris Donahue, Commander of the U.S. Army 82nd Airborne Division the last soldier to board a C-17 cargo plane at the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Celebratory gunfire echoed across Kabul as Taliban fighters took control of the airport before dawn on Tuesday following the withdrawal of the last U.S. troops, ending 20 years of war that left the Islamic militia stronger than it was in 2001.

Shaky video footage distributed by the Taliban showed fighters entering the airport after the last U.S. troops took off a minute before midnight, marking the end of a hasty and humiliating exit for Washington and its NATO allies.

The exit comes after President Joe Biden in April said US troops would be withdrawn from Afghanistan starting May 1 to end America’s longest war, rejecting calls for them to stay to ensure a peaceful resolution to that nation’s grinding internal conflict.

He said foreign troops under NATO command will also withdraw from Afghanistan in coordination with the US pull-out.

It had initially been indicated that the withdrawal of foreign troops would be completed by Sept 11.

Around 7,000 non-U.S. forces from mainly NATO countries, also from Australia, New Zealand and Georgia, outnumbered the 2,500 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, but they still relied on American air support, planning and leadership.

Biden acknowledged that U.S. objectives in Afghanistan had become “increasingly unclear” over the past decade and set a deadline for withdrawing all U.S. troops remaining in Afghanistan by Sept. 11, exactly 20 years after al Qaeda’s attacks on the United States that triggered the war.

But by pulling out without a clear victory over the Taliban and other radicals in Afghanistan, the United States opened itself to criticism that a withdrawal represents a de facto admission of failure for American military strategy.

“It was never meant to be a multi-generational undertaking. We were attacked. We went to war with clear goals. We achieved those objectives,” Biden said, noting that al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was killed by American forces in 2011 and saying that organization has been “degraded” in Afghanistan.

“And it’s time to end the forever war,” Biden added.

The war has cost the lives of 2,448 American service members and consumed an estimated $2 trillion. U.S. troop numbers in Afghanistan peaked at more than 100,000 in 2011.

In withdrawing, Biden is embracing risks at the start of his presidency that proved too great for his predecessors, including that al Qaeda might reconstitute itself or that the Taliban insurgency might topple the U.S.-backed government in Kabul.

“I am now the fourth American president to preside over an American troop presence in Afghanistan. Two Republicans. Two Democrats,” Biden said. “I will not pass this responsibility on to a fifth.”

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani wrote on Twitter that he spoke with Biden and respects the U.S. decision. Ghani added that “we will work with our U.S. partners to ensure a smooth transition” and “we will continue to work with our US/NATO partners in the ongoing peace efforts.”

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